Take a quick glance at Tony Soh’s CV, and you can’t help but think, “This is a really successful man.”
Former administrative officer in the government service. Senior appointments in several government agencies. Senior management posts in a major property firm. Board member in several governmental and financial organisations.
Then there were all the signs of success—nice house, big car, luxury goods, and expensive holidays. Tony, it seemed, had got everything he wanted.
For Tony, this seemed to be the right way to go for many years. He had worked hard and sought to be successful because he felt he should make full use of his skills and talent. Even when he got married to Ting Ai and they had children, his work continued to come first.
“There was never any doubt that my work was most important, as that was how I would provide a good life for my family,” he says.
So, life didn’t change much for Tony after he became a husband and father. He spent long hours at work—and even continued at home after a quick dinner and shower. He worked many weekends, and even missed some of his children’s birthday parties because of work emergencies.
“Looking back, maybe I didn’t realise that I had allowed my drive and ambition to supersede everything else.”
As for the task of parenting, he left it all to Ting Ai. “How difficult could it be?”, he recalls thinking then. “My role was mainly to be the provider and the disciplinarian. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife and my kids above everything else. But looking back, maybe I didn’t realise that I had allowed my drive and ambition to supersede everything else.”
In fact, he adds, “taking care of the family” probably wasn’t the real reason for his pursuit of success. “Deep down inside, I’m not so sure it was so altruistic,” he admits. “A lot of my ambition and drive was about getting ahead, and I was not willing to let anything get in the way.”
Then life changed, and Tony found himself having to review his role as a father.
The first few years of fatherhood seemed particularly frustrating for Tony. His first son, Mitchell, appeared to be defiant. He didn’t seem to understand Tony’s instructions, and would not obey them. Already short-tempered from work, Tony would lash out more.
“I decided that, for his own good, I should discipline him,” he says. “But when my punishment did not seem to have the desired effect, it caused me to become more frustrated, and at times I would escalate the punishment in the misguided belief that he would learn his lesson. But it did not work.”
Mitchell would also have meltdowns, and appeared to have trouble dealing with new circumstances and plans that changed suddenly.
“We believe that God has given him a wonderful destiny and our role as parents is to help him discover and hopefully fulfil that destiny.”
Only when the boy was three years old, did his parents realise something wasn’t completely right. Around 1999, Mitchell was diagnosed with autism, which explained why he had difficulty processing verbal instructions.
Tony was devastated by the news.
“It was very painful for me, to see a child I loved so much being fearful and yet totally helpless in trying to understand what was expected of him,” he says. “My wife and I were at a loss.”
The discovery sent Tony back to the Word of God, which gave him words of comfort:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
I praise you because
I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Tony began to see that in spite of his apparent success at work, he had in fact little control over life—of his own and that of his children.
And he realised each and every child was “different—fearfully and wonderfully made by God”. “Mitchell is different from other children and will take a different path in life,” he says. “We believe that God has given him a wonderful destiny and our role as parents is to help him discover and hopefully fulfil that destiny.”
A New Way to Parent
In fact, Mitchell’s diagnosis sparked a change in Tony’s dreams and hopes for his children.
As a successful man himself, he had wanted all three kids—Mitchell, Claire, and Russell—to be high achievers. “I felt like they should at least equal if not exceed my own achievements in academics, sports, CCA—in fact, any area of life,” he says. “Whether it was my daughter representing her school in gymnastics or track and field, or my youngest son playing football, I wanted them to excel.”
Over time, however, Tony began to realise that these goals were not really for his children. Rather, he says, “It was all about me.”
Now, he has learnt to encourage his kids to pursue what they felt God was leading them in, and to support them and help them live out God’s plan for their lives. “Bringing Mitchell up has helped me to better understand the Father’s heart, and how He loves unconditionally and patiently nudges us in the right direction even when we don’t always get things right,” he says.
“I felt like they should at least equal if not exceed my own achievements in academics, sports, CCA—in fact, any area of life.”
Tony also learnt to take better care of his marriage, which he admits not paying much attention to when he was younger. “It is so important in providing a firm foundation for a healthy and loving family life,” he says.
The couple recently celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary, and thanked God for not only preserving their marriage through the years, but also for helping them to grow in love for each other. “It has become clear to me that to have a strong marriage, we must start by seeking and putting God first,” he says.
Tony at a race in Singapore.
Learning to Slow Down
When Tony was busy at work, he tended to be short-tempered and impatient with his family. “The desire to do well and achieve results at work caused me to become very intense and highly strung,” he recalls. “That would unfortunately spill over at home from time to time, when I got home after a long, difficult day at the office, my wife and children could become victims of my outbursts or moody behaviour.”
He also often insisted on doing everything “his way”, he admits.
In 2018, however, Tony decided to make a big career switch and “deliberately slow down”. He left his corporate job and joined the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre. This meant he no longer had to clock in long hours and travel overseas frequently, which allowed him to spend more time at home with his family. He now sits on the boards of several organisations, including Focus on the Family Singapore (where he is the vice-chairman) and YMCA. But no matter how busy he might be, he takes pains to leave the office on time so that he could have dinner with his family each night.
“There is still some way to go before I can say I connect well with my kids, but it is a start and I am determined to keep progressing.”
He has also started spending exclusive “dating” time with Ting Ai and each of his children. One of his greatest joys is when his daughter returns on term breaks from overseas and makes it a point to “date” her dad. This, says Tony, is more special and precious than anything money can buy.
These simple activities, he says, have helped to build bonds with his kids. Tony has also found himself in a better state of mind to listen and empathise with his children, so that he can connect with them instead of simply lecturing or interrogating them as he used to. “There is still some way to go before I can say I connect well with my kids, but it is a start and I am determined to keep progressing,” he says.
What inspires Tony is the Bible’s reminder to treasure God’s gift of children to him:
Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
The change in Tony’s parenting philosophy and approach has also come with a change in his own relationship with God. This, he says, has deepened as he learnt to love God with his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as himself.
“In order to truly love others, including our children, as ourselves, we start by loving God and seeking Him first in our lives,” he says. “When I am able to embrace sonship and feel the love of God, I find it a lot easier to love my children as God would have me love them.”
- Start by loving God and seeking Him first in your life.
- Build a loving and healthy family life with your wife and children.
- Learn to slow down and make time to bond with each and every child (and your spouse, too).
- Parent your child by helping them discover and live out their God-given potential.